Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Demise of Detroit

My Great-Grandma lived on Marlborough St in Detroit off of Jefferson and Chalmers on the East Side of the city near the border of Gross Point. When I was a young girl in the sixties and seventies we would go to her house for our family gatherings. She was the matriarch over four generations and our group was normally   about forty people or so. Her large house offered plenty of room for at least 12 at the dining room table and several more 'kids' tables set up in the living room and kitchen.

Speaking of the four generations: When I was 12 I announced to my mom I would have to have a baby girl when I was 20, because each generation in our family began with the birth of a first child/grandchild when the mother was 20 years old. My mom was 20 when she had me, my grandma was 20 when she had mom and Great Grandma was 20 when she had my Grandma.

My mom was horrified to hear of my pronouncement of motherhood at 20. She pulled the car over to a skidded stop on the side of the road to shake her finger at me and shreik "You will NOT have kids at 20! You will go to college and travel and do the things you want to do before you get married and have kids!"

Anyway back to Detroit. My Great Grandmother passed away in the seventies at the age of 76. She had long ago moved away to a Detroit suburb but the house she presided over her brood in still survives. And in the City of Detroit that is no small miracle. Many, many houses have been torn down or are still standing, as burned out shells of their former homeyness. 

It's a barn shaped house, and there are two empty lots to one side of it. (Pictured above) The next street over where my other great grandmother lived has only four houses left on the block she lived on.

There is a mega company wanting to buy 146 acres of Detroit city. They claim they will tear down all the structures that are abandoned and unsafe and plant a tree farm in all the empty lots. This is happening very near to a lovely old neighborhood named Indian Village which has even larger and more beautiful homes. Some say they are waiting to profit from the land grab someday when the economy shifts and Detroit emerges from the desolation it is experiencing now.

I sure hope it emerges. Detroit was a lovely city when I was a little girl. We had Boblo Island - an amusement park you would take a ferry to get to. Lots of people had boats, I went out on boats alot and loved the water. We had lots of lakes and the River and of course the great lakes. Detroit had lots of sports teams and culture - great punk and new wave bands never missed coming to Detroit for concerts. I lived in the suburbs during the riots and we continued to move to the outer belt of suburbia in search of a cleaner and safer way of life along with better schools for my brother and I. We grew up 30 miles west of Detroit in Plymouth- we moved there from Dearborn, which was just outside of the Detroit border, when I was four years old.

I later moved to Detroit as a young adult to rent houses at a more affordable rate than Plymouth would extend to a young single. I think our first house rent was only $350/month. The house was on the westside of the city near Five Mile and Lahser. We got robbed twice the first 2 months we lived there. The day after Christmas they broke in and stole our brand new TV. Four weeks later when we had replaced the TV they broke in again and this time took everything- TV's, Leather Jackets, my Iron, My entire Jewelry Box, a brand new custom pool cue with Ivory Inlay.

We moved to another house in Detroit where I was threatened a couple of times - one time verbally and another by a dead cat being thrown over the fence into our backyard. We immediately got two large dogs for protection. I never felt that safe there and moved back to the suburbs shortly thereafter.

Many hundreds of thousands have fled Detroit's crime and crumbling infrastructure. There were once almost two million people living in the city of Detroit during the boom years of the fifties when the automotive industry was flourishing and people flocked there for the well paying jobs.

Now there are only 700,000 remaining.

Many lots are empty, some entire neighborhoods have only a few homes remaining. 

Should Detroit keep supplying water, electricity, police and fire services to huge blocks of the city that only have a few houses remaining?

What is the answer? I sure don't know, but it's a sad situation.
I hope it can be resolved and Detroit and many other cities past their prime will live on to a second coming. Cites are the heart of our country. They are worth saving.

Check out this artist James Griffioen - He has many photos of the Demise of Detroit - remember all of these photos are of city streets that were once filled with houses, stores and industries.

I have borrowed just two: